There’s a moment in Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity where all the technical grandeur fades and something human, if only for a single sublime minute, emerges from the immaculately CGI-rendered blackness of space. NASA engineer Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), devastated by improbable bad luck while working on a damaged satellite, finds herself only able to communicate with a stranger, on the ground and oblivious to her impossible situation, through howls. Her swift tactical mind gives into an uncharted levity, just as hope seems to have seeped completely out of her mindset. It’s the only unmistakably personal event of the film, an emotionally spontaneous moment that nearly matches the film’s visual bombast, but it doesn’t fully assuage the mousetrap construction of the script.
The film tips into action when a U.S. satellite gets shredded by a wave of debris, leaving Stone and astronaut Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) floating untethered way above Earth’s atmosphere. The convincing and thrilling effects-driven oomph of the opening sets the stage for a film that never quite gets past the audacity of its initial concept. As Bullock and Clooney hover in space, Cuarón sets up a series of unfortunate events that’s consistently thrilling yet tedious in the way the story plods along in a familiar track of increasingly unfavorable odds.
For all the astounding freedom that Cuarón and DP Emmanuel Lubezki’s floating camera gives Gravity, the film seems primarily concerned in reminding us of the unlikelihood of Ryan’s survival. The vastness of space feels consistently boxed in by the limited scope of the story, and the relative baseness of the characters. Like most action movies, the sequences of destruction absolutely dwarf the quieter scenes, which often reduce Cuarón’s visual wonder to something more akin to an enthusiastic trip to the planetarium. And if the death of Ryan’s daughter suggests that her being lost in space is as much an allegory for her emotional mindset as it is a physical state of emergency, the filmmakers prove passive in their intentions to make anything as emotionally palpable and immediate as the canopy of stars.
Still, as far as films that absolutely demand to be seen in a movie theater, there are very few in Gravity’s class, which isn’t to say that it’s gimmicky. Bullock’s thoughtful and physically demanding performance surprisingly blends perfectly with the surroundings. She doesn’t shrink from the dramatic size of her surroundings, nor does she play up her character’s desperation and panic. (Not for nothing is Gravity also another sort of rarity: a well-made action film centered completely on an intelligent woman.) However, the fact that the cast and crew have all clearly brought their A game makes the abbreviated ambitions of the script all the more glaring and increasingly frustrating as Ryan prepares for a hail-mary attempt at returning home. Gravity ultimately feels like a genre workout, one that convincingly sees the heroism and struggle of not letting go, but never transcends its basic (wo)man-versus-nature narrative.
Warner Home Video has given the crown jewel in their 2013 lineup the royal treatment it deserves. Not surprisingly, black levels are stunning, and color, contrast, and saturation are all also perfectly calibrated. Peerless clarity brings out the detail of the film (skin tones look excellent) and a uniformly fantastic sense of texture. And there are no major signs of digital alterations or touch-ups in the transfer. The sound is equally top-tier, with Steven Price’s dramatic score and sound effects blending beautifully in the back end. The dialogue, though sparse, remains clear and easily intelligible at all times, making for an immersive auditory experience. Technically speaking, this is as impressive a Blu-ray transfer as the studio has ever put out.
Those who walked away from Gravity in awe, wondering how its technical achievements were pulled off, will likely be satiated by "Gravity: Mission Control," a 107-minute documentary on the film’s making, which includes a look at its green screen work, interviews with Alfonso Cuarón along with his cast and crew, and the conceptualizing of the script by Cuarón and his son Jonás. Of particular interest is the discussion of the film’s editing and its crucial role in realizing Cuarón’s aesthetic. Despite using footage from the documentary while mulling over a handful of the film’s key sequences, the "Shot Breakdowns" feature is still of interest. Also included is Jonás Cuarón’s Aningaaq, a companion short to the film, and the anxiety-inducing "Collision Point: The Race to Clean Up Space," a documentary short about the potential crisis that the events of the film are based off of.
Alfonso Cuarón’s visually dazzling tale of survival in space gets the royal treatment from Warner Home Video with an exemplary A/V transfer and a bevy of relevant extras.